Join Me In The Kitchen with Vicki McGraw

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If you have kids, this week means one thing-Halloween! And of course, Halloween just wouldn’t be the same without a Jack-o-lantern! You see pumpkins everywhere this time of year, and not just in the usual places, like gardens, farm markets and front porches. I have seen pumpkins in windows, on lamp posts and fence posts, and in lawn chairs. Creativity abounds when it comes to pumpkins. One thing a lot of kids don’t realize, though, is that you can eat pumpkins! Once, when I was teaching kindergarten, one of my students insisted that his pumpkin pie came from a can, not an actual pumpkin! Out of the mouths of babes…

Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, and my favorite, pumpkin cheesecake, all make their appearance in October. If you have never cooked a fresh pumpkin, it can seem a little daunting, but it truly is simple. “Pie pumpkins” are the small ones usually found displayed with other hard, winter squash. I like to cook pumpkins as I do squash, that is by simply piercing the flesh a few times and bake whole until it is tender. You can also cut the pumpkin into chunks, and boil until tender in lightly salted water. After cooling, simply mash the flesh with a fork or pulse in a food processor and voila-pumpkin for recipes! True, canned, solid pack pumpkin may be a whole lot easier and more convenient, but it’s never as tasty as fresh, and certainly not as much fun!

Recently I had the opportunity to cater an annual luncheon that I have done many times and really enjoy doing. This particular event is always one of my favorite to cater, because I am allowed (actually encouraged) to “get creative” with the menu, (meaning I get to “play with my food”), which is one of my creative outlets! This year I chose to make burgundy beef stew, served in a roasted pumpkin. Rather than using ordinary bowls as serving vessels, I choose to use small pie pumpkins, which I had simply cut in half, lightly salt and peppered and baked until fork tender. Once cooked, I filled them with my chunky stew and sided it with additional roasted squash and warm, cheddar garlic biscuits, and finished the meal off with pumpkin cheesecake. Talk about making the most of the season…serving this meal was met with rave reviews! I also used a very large pumpkin (from which I had simply removed the top and scraped out the insides) as a punch bowl filled with apple cider. The simplest things can become works of art! After preparing 22 pumpkins for this meal, I wound up with a massive amount of pumpkin “guts” (seeds and strings for those of you without boys…). Luckily, roasted pumpkin seeds are a favorite in our house, so even the scraps were not wasted! After removing the excess pulp and strings, I simply soaked the seeds in salted water over night, then drained them well and spread on a lightly greased baking tray. I then baked them at 400* for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even roasting. The smell is pure fall, and the taste is even better!

This week, why not gather the kids (or a few friends) and head out to your local farm market and choose a few of those big, beautiful orange globes. Give it a personality, roast its seeds and enjoy the fall decoration!

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Crust:

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

. c sugar

. c butter, melted

Filling:

24 oz cream cheese, softened

1/3 c dark brown sugar

5 t flour

4 eggs

1 egg yolk

1 c canned, solid pack or fresh mashed pumpkin

. c whipping cream

2 t vanilla extract

1 t cinnamon

. t nutmeg

. t ginger

. t cloves

Combine crust ingredients and press into the bottom of a spring form pan. Bake at 350* for 10 minutes.

Combine cream cheese, brown sugar and flour and beat until smooth. Add eggs and egg yolk one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in remaining ingredients and pour mixture over warm crust.

Bake at 350* for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 250* and bake 1 hour 15 minutes longer or until center no longer looks wet and shiny. Remove from oven and run a knife around inside edge of pan. Turn oven off; return cake to oven for an additional 1 hour. Chill, uncovered, overnight. Garnish with cranberries, roasted pumpkin seeds and whipped cream if desired.

To read more of Vicki McGraw’s commentaries on good cooking, fine recipes and perfect party treats, visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on Join Me in the Kitchen’s own page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment